Monday, April 20, 2009

Ballard Gone: World at Half Mast

Yesterday I would have described James Graham Ballard as our greatest living novelist; today, following his death from prostate cancer at the age of 78, I would still categorize him as arguably the most progressive thinker and commentator of our time. He found the beauty in places where beauty did not exist prior to his discovery: in desolation, in anomie, in medical language, in injury, in emotionless sex, in catastrophe, in sterility, in those places where hard corners open into infinite cold, where the imagination turns against itself. In some ways, I feel we continue to live in the 20th century precisely because most of us cannot follow Ballard's writing into the 21st century as it truly is. I consider CRASH the finest piece of writing I've ever read, and it (along with THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION) surely influenced the writing of my own novel THROAT SPROCKETS; CRASH taught me, more than all of Flaubert, more than all of Nabokov, the value of the mot juste, the perfectly crafted sentence and the value of transgression. Ballard himself observed that the book's cult success was not immediate, that it was initially accepted only by "a few psychopaths and amputees."

Somewhere in my archives I have a cassette of an early 1980s interview I conducted with David Cronenberg, during which I asked if he had ever read CRASH, which I expected he would like as it consolidated his obsessions with mutation and cars. He hadn't, but he promised he would. The film he eventually based on Ballard's book had its good points, but is not half so important or daring as the novel; likewise, Steven Spielberg's ambitious but overblown film of EMPIRE OF THE SUN. Jonathan Weiss's film of THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION comes much closer to the mark, making what was oblique and implicit in the original work more explicit while remaining true to its essential spirit and vocabulary.

One of Ballard's typically inspired book titles was A USER'S GUIDE TO THE MILLENNIUM. I feel this title would have been more accurately stamped on the cover of J.G. BALLARD QUOTES, a compendium of quotations from his interviews and fiction assembled by V. Vale and Mike Ryan for ReSearch Publications. I'd call it the perfect bedside book, if it didn't have the most extraordinary capacity to ignite the imagination and keep one up all hours, looking at all and sundry through Ballard's uniquely pitched spectacles. For example, he called Madonna's chromium-plated coffee table book SEX "a Commonplace book for our day, by the Daisy Ashford of the 1990s, as filled with homilies and naive dreams as the diary of any Victorian young lady." He included The Los Angeles Yellow Pages, as well as Burroughs' NAKED LUNCH, on his list of 10 Best Books. Yet he was more than a mere provocateur; these seeming provocations are actually laced with almost perilous insight and keen perspective. He had vision and the courage to use it, the capacity to look at the world around us with the poised disengagement of an art critic. Some called this perspective psychotic; I would call it Godly and the spectacle itself psychotic.

In RUSHING TO PARADISE, Ballard wrote "Contrary to general belief, no one's death diminishes us." Ballard's death enriches us by completing one of the most valuable shelves of literature in English.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

EXPOSED Reviewed

Christina Lindberg in a frisky clinch with Janne Carlsson in EXPOSED.

My review of the Christina Lindberg epic EXPOSED (Exponerad, a.k.a. THE DEPRAVED), now available from the great folks at Synapse Films, appears in the May 2009 issue of SIGHT & SOUND... and also on the S&S website here. This issue should be of especial interest to VIDEO WATCHDOG readers, as it includes Kim Newman's review of the must-see LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Mark Kermode's survey of recent vampire cinema, and another piece by Kim about "The New Horror" and what it may be lacking.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Deep Deep Down

All fans of Eurocult cinema owe it to themselves to check out this YouTube clip of Mike Patton's Mondo Cane performing Ennio Morricone's "Deep Deep Down," the love theme from Mario Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK. I've always liked the song, with its Christy vocal, without giving it too much thought -- it's not even my favorite musical cue in the picture -- but seeing it performed live by such an expressive vocalist, a full choir and orchestra brought tears to my eyes.
God bless them, every one.

It's like seeing an entire city rise up in tribute to Mario Bava, Ennio Morricone, Marisa Mell and John Phillip Law. It's like seeing a modest film made forty years ago by humble artisans, shrugged off by most people at the time of its original release, triumphing over time by spreading the wings of a glorious phoenix.

I sent a link to Lamberto Bava, who turned 65 years old this week -- the age at which his father died in 1980. I wish Lamberto a much longer run.
Mille grazie to my friend Rod Barnett for alerting me to this.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Luís Buñuel Gets You There On Time

My review of Luís Buñuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL and SIMON OF THE DESERT, now available on DVD from Criterion, is part of their April 2009 issue and also appears as a free enticement on their website here.

In other personal news, I was notified yesterday by editor David Barker of Continuum Press' 33 & 1/3 series that my book on Jefferson Airplane's 1968 album CROWN OF CREATION did not make the latest round of cuts, which is now down to 27 finalists. One of these, on Neil Young's TONIGHT'S THE NIGHT, has been proposed by VW's own Sam Umland, I'm pleased to report.

Any rejection is disappointing, but this one especially so. I have now written a cable miniseries, a feature screenplay and a book about Jefferson Airplane and not one of them has been able to "take off." It is also Dr. Barker's second rejection of this completed project, though he offered at the time of its first rejection to consider it as an emergency fill-in title, should another author on their roster encounter problems or fail to meet their deadline. Obviously the state of the economy entered into this decision, but jeez, you would think a finished book about one of the best-selling albums by the group who headlined at Woodstock and Altamont, written by a multi-award-winning critic and biographer, would have counted for something.

So now do I advance into the brave new world of music book publishing, or not? That is the question.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Video WatchBlog Wins Best Blog Rondo Award

I'm very surprised and flattered to report that, when David Colton announced the winners of the 7th Annual Rondo Awards last evening in a live Classic Horror Film Boards chat, Video WatchBlog was named Best Blog and I was named Best Writer for the second year in a row.

The common wisdom I've been hearing is that I destroyed Video WatchBlog's chances of winning by retiring it while voting was still in progress, so I am moved by this victory in particular. I've received some truly extraordinary letters from readers about this blog, and what it has meant to them; in a long letter I must count as the most touching of them all, David Colton himself gave his reasons why he considered Video WatchBlog to be my "finest hour." It's very testing to read something so heart-felt and uplifting, and to receive an popular vote acknowledgement like this award, and still stick to my guns... but I must. For now, I feel that returning to this discipline, in addition to everything else I'm trying to accomplish, would be more personally damaging than it could possibly be generally helpful. I may have disappeared from daily view and free access, but I'm still producing the best monthly print magazine of its kind (some would say the only monthly print magazine of its kind), enjoying a stimulating new phase of life, and working on (and preparing to work on) some exciting new projects.

We are now preparing to buckle down to an important number of VIDEO WATCHDOG, our 150th issue, and we want to make it something very special. I feel more able to accomplish this goal without the added responsibility of this blog, and I suspect you'll be more avid to read that issue because of what has been withheld from public view in advance.

Thank you all, very much, for your votes and good thoughts.

What follows is the complete press release of the 7th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Awards, with a complete list of recipients in each category. I send my congratulations to all those listed.

MARCH 24, 2009 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

ARLINGTON, VA -- Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, TV's The Munsters and Ray Harryhausen's 7th Voyage of Sinbad were all winners Monday in the Seventh Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards, which also honored the man who cared for sci-fi legend Forrest J Ackerman in the final years of his life. But the biggest surprise came when a special "Hitchcock" edition of Barbie, dressed like Tippi Hedren and swarmed by miniature crows from The Birds, topped the Creature from the Black Lagoon in a showdown for Best Model, Toy or Collectible.

Not only did the 50-year-old doll from Mattel beat out the green-scaled Creature, but she outclassed models from The Exorcist, Invasion of the Saucermen and even an action figure of Rondo Hatton himself, the obscure 1940s horror actor who inspired the fan awards. The Rondos are an annual celebration of the vintage monsters who sparked almost a century of horror films and sequels. The worldwide online survey by the Classic Horror Film Board, a 14-year old online community, is the largest in the genre and drew a record 2,932 emailed votes.

Beyond Barbie's latest triumph, winners Monday ranged from the modern -- The Dark Knight was voted best film of 2008, the BBC's Doctor Who was favorite television show -- to classic horrors from the past: -- A new edition of the 1960 film, Psycho, was voted Best Classic Horror DVD. -- A collection of Harryhausen's 1950s science films, including a colorized Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, was named Best DVD Collection, and the collected episodes of The Munsters was the favorite TV collection. -- And a painstaking reconstruction and restortaion of Carl Dreyer's atmospheric 1932 chiller, Vampyr, was voted Best Restoration.

The most emotional moments came when it was announced in an online ceremony that a Los Angeles producer, Joe Moe, had been named "Monster Kid of the Year,'' for his long years serving as a friend and caregiver for horror and science fiction collector Ackerman. The founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, Ackerman died this year at the age of 92.

"For his quiet, constant and unwavering stewardship of Forrest J Ackerman's final decade of life,'' the Rondo citation reads, "Joe Moe revealed not only the man behind Mr. Monster, but the grace and strength of the ultimate fan. For being there when we all couldn't, Joe Moe is Monster Kid of the Year.'' Moe, contacted by phone during the event, said, "If ever there was a time when I needed my monster family, it's now. Thank you so much for validating the work I tried to do in a fashion that would make all of you proud. I tried not to cry for Forry but now that he's gone, this honor from you, my pals, has me in tears. Thank you so much."

Other winners included:

Best DVD Extra: "One for the Fire,'' a documentary about the making of Night of the Living Dead.

Best DVD Commentary: Makeup master Rick Baker, Bob Burns, Scott Essman, Steve Haberman and Brent Armstrong for The Mummy (1932).

Best Documentary: Spine-Tingler: The William Castle Story.

Book of the Year: The Twilight Zone by Martin Grams.

Best Magazine: Rue Morgue.

Best Article: "Coffin Joe Resurrected,'' a look at the legendary Brazilian filmmaker Jose Mojica Marins, by Scott Gabbey and Jovanka Vuckovic in Rue Morgue.

Best Magazine Cover: Rue Morgue #83, a portrait of Forrest J Ackerman by longtime Famous Monsters artist Basil Gogos.

Best Website: Trailers from Hell.

Best Blog: Video WatchBlog.

Convention of the Year: WonderFest in Louisville.

Fan Event of the Year: World Zombie Day.

Favorite Horror Host: Svengoolie, played by Rich Koz, in Chicago.

Best Horror Audio Site: Rue Morgue Radio.

CD of the Year: Soundtrack of The Blob by Monstrous Movie Music.

Best Horror Comic Book: Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch, by Mike Mignola.

Biggest controversy: An L.A. fan's disputed claim he had once examined the long-lost Lon Chaney film, London After Midnight.

Writer of the Year: Tim Lucas, author and editor of Video Watchdog

Artist of the Year: Basil Gogos.

Favorite DVD Reviewer: Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant.

Vasaria Public Citizen Award: Cameron McCasland and Creature Cinema for public service announcements by Nashville's Dr. Gangrene [Larry Underwood] and Nurse Moan-Eek [Linda Wylie].

Monster Kid Hall of Fame inductees: European horror actor Paul Naschy; Jim and Marian Clatterbaugh of Monsters from the Vault magazine; painter Ken Kelly; the late Calvin Beck, founder of Castle of Frankenstein magazine; the late Lux Interior, lead singer for punk band The Cramps and an influence on the psychobilly horror rock movement; and the late Bob Wilkins, original host of San Francisco's Creature Features.

Many of the Rondo winners will receive Rondo busts, sculpted by Kerry Gammill and cast by Tim Lindsey, at the WonderFest convention in Louisville on May 16. Further information, including runners-up and all the nominees, can be found at rondoaward.com.